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Women at the Tomb

Mark 16:1 -- 11

It is a little noted fact: the first people to discover the Resurrection were women. Indeed, the first one to see the Risen Lord was a women who had suffered through demon possession.

1When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

4But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

6“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

8Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

[The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.]

9When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

The Women

In the various Gospel accounts we have record of more than the three mentioned here. However, as we have followed Mark’s account, we shall look only at these three.

Mary Magdalene

To understand Mary Magdalene you need only think of the stigma attached to mental illness today. I leave it to you: just how comfortable would you feel around someone whom you knew as a one-time raving maniac? Mary’s case was worst than most. In small town Palestine she would be a well known figure. She’d be the one locked up in a mental hospital today, behind thick glass and steel doors.

But great forgiveness produces great love, and Mary Magdalene loved her Lord very much. We know two other things about her:

  • She, like several other women, supported Jesus out of her own purse while he was in his three year ministry. This was not unknown in their time, and was considered a pious act.
  • She and some of the others traveled with him and his band of disciples.
Mary, mother of James

There are six women named Mary in the New Testament. Of this one we know only this: her son wrote the book of James in the New Testament. This is not James the Apostle, who died first among them. It is likely enough that she too supported and followed Jesus on his preaching expeditions.


This name is a bit deceiving, in that we think of Herodias’ daughter who danced before Herod. This is not the same woman – because this woman is the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Confused yet? She is most noted for her attempt to use her influence on Jesus to have her sons sitting at the right and left hand of Christ when he comes in power in his kingdom.

So we have another traveler with Jesus, this time an older woman. It is not unlikely that she played the role of “Mom” to the younger women on tour.

The least of these…

Little do we know of them, yet they were first at the empty tomb. In their society they would be regarded as of little worth.

  • They have taken on the task of embalming a dead body. That makes them ceremonially unclean.
  • Worse, the body in question was a victim of crucifixion. The body itself would be mangled in the flogging. The victim of crucifixion would not be something which would recommend itself to society. This is the same reaction you get when you tell someone you’re visiting a friend in prison – they’re a little suspicious of people who have such friends.
  • They are at the bottom of the social ladder, and they have taken on this unpleasant task voluntarily.

So it is that the last shall be first, and the first, last.

First to see Jesus

It escapes many of the learned writers, but I suspect someone eventually asked the question: why were these women permitted to be the first witnesses of the Resurrection?

Prepared to deal with death

Perhaps it is because they have come prepared to deal with death – just as Jesus prepared to deal with it.

  • In a sense, it is where ultimate realism meets ultimate reality. The ultimate in realism for us is to stare death in the face, seeing its horrors. The ultimate reality is Jesus, who has conquered death. They were prepared for the worst; Jesus showed them the best.
  • They prepared as a servant would. Jesus, the Servant-King, honored those who were prepared to serve. (It is interesting that none of the disciples would touch this little problem).
  • Finally, there is an act of kindness in this towards one whom Jesus loves. In that time Jesus would normally have been embalmed by his mother, or perhaps sisters. These women spared Mary the agony of embalming the body of her firstborn.

You don’t have to be a Christian long before you hear the word obedience – and learn how important it is. See how obedience is rewarded here!

  • Likely enough they see it as an unpleasant chore, but note that there is no complaining.
  • Like good servants, they do not postpone the unpleasant, but get there as soon as possible under the law.

Faith? Surely one cannot believe they had any faith left. After all, they were coming to embalm the body, not witness the Resurrection. But we forget something: the stone. There is a massive stone in front of the tomb, one well beyond their strength. But they went to the tomb anyway. They had no faith in the Resurrection at all. But they had faith that God would somehow solve this problem for them.

  • It is a characteristic of living faith: you know that if God commands, God will supply. If he says embalm, he will find someone to move the stone.
  • Just because we can’t see how he’s going to do it doesn’t mean that he can’t. He never told us we’d see it; he just told us to do.

God is not limited by your vision; he limits you in accord with your faith.

Little things

In the grand scheme of things this is not a major event. People die every day. Something has to be done with the bodies. The women did not expect praise or reward, likely enough. But see how the extravagance of God takes a little thing and rewards it most richly.


Perhaps it’s the pitch of women’s voices. Anyone who can talk three times as fast as I can is naturally going to cause some suspicion. But note that these women are no more ready to believe the Resurrection than the men.

The Angel

The angel announces the good news to them – after the obligatory “fear not”, angels being terrifying in general. How do the women react? They run away. Even the word of an angel of God is not sufficient to overcome their fear and their certainty that death is unconquerable.

What a proof of the Resurrection! These women were not about to be taken in. Their immediate reaction is to run for help. So they go get Peter and John, who run back with them. John believes; Peter wonders. But they are not the only actors on our stage.

Mary Magdalene returns to the tomb

We must reference John’s account to hear the end of the story:

10Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

17Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Crying at the tomb

None of us could fault the woman for what she is doing. She has come to embalm a body – a sad enough task – and now she can’t find the body. The angels ask her why, and her answer is plain enough. Just tell me what you did with the body and I’ll take care of it from there.

Note that she answers the angels – but does not truly answer the voice clouded by her tears. She does not pay too much attention to this “gardener.” She is to the point where her pain and her tears have taken charge. Matters are at their worst for her.

Until she turns, hearing the word, “Mary.” Jesus calls her name; she turns and nothing is ever the same again. Mark’s account tells us that she will tell the disciples about this – and not be believed. But it does not matter now.


There is a distinct parallel here. When things are just so messed up that we have no idea what to do (but we know it’s going to be very unpleasant) – through the haze of our tears Jesus calls. He calls each of us, knowing us by name. The call is to repentance; the call is to eternal life. If you will turn and hear his voice, you can cling to him. But you have to turn towards him first.

Remember this when you do: it is just as the angels said. He is not here; He is Risen. And nothing has been the same since.

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